One Worn Out Mascot
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Two console generations ago, Crash Bandicoot was the poster child for Sony’s PlayStation. He achieved mascot status rather quickly, thanks to the talent of development house Naughty Dog. Like an E! True Hollywood Story, his rise to the top of the console heap occurred rather fast (the first three PlayStation games were very well received), but, like every rapid ascent, it was followed by an equally disgraceful fall.
Something got lost along the way. It partly had to do with Naughty Dog stepping aside and the series jumping from developer-to-developer (from Vicarious Visions to Traveller’s Tales and now Radical Entertainment). With no solid home, Crash’s focus got skewed. Instead of staying with his bread ‘n butter – action-platforming – genre diversions became the norm. There were a spat of kart racing games and even a cross-over experiment featuring another once-Sony mascot – Spyro the Dragon. Much like the continual return-to-excellence promise of Sonic, Crash has been poised for a comeback for a decade. With Mind Over Mutant – the fifteenth in the series – Crash gains no solid ground; it serves as a reminder that the wily Bandicoot’s best times are behind him.
From the start, Mind Over Mutant doesn’t put its best foot forward. The console versions of the game may have been handled by Radical Entertainment, but this portable version – managed by Virtuos – is a mess in terms of load times. Not only does it take a full minute for Mind Over Mutant to load the title screen, you’ll sit through plenty of intermittent load screens throughout the course of play – many of them taking at least a good twenty seconds to generate the next area.
Initial technical blemish aside, Mind Over Mutant does establish a strong front by presenting one of its best features from the get-go: its immaculately produced cutscenes. Normally, cinematic diversions are an instant minus as far as critiquing goes, but each one of Mind Over Mutant’s cutscenes are delivered in a different style – from straightforward black-and-white to a cut-out, play set approach. Aesthetics are only one part of the cutscene equation. What really helps sell these segments are their genuine humor – reminding one of a Saturday morning Nickelodeon cartoon – and excellent voice acting, lead by talents such as John DiMaggio and Mark Hamill.
The plot hook that wraps around the cutscenes is simple and manages to poke fun at pockets of our gadget-obsessed culture. Partnering with Doctor Nitrus Brio, Doctor Neo Cortex invents a device called the NV – a glorified, Blackberry-like headset that serves as a PDA as well as a social networking tool. However, anyone who wears the device turns evil, a byproduct of the game’s bad mojo. Obviously, Crash is unaffected and has to save the world, one friend at-a-time.
It’s once you get into the actual game that the following question crops up: did the developers want to create an actual cartoon or a video game? That question arises because the level of care given to the cutscenes is nowhere to been seen in the gameplay. Most of Mind Over Muntant’s execution either feels below average or barely adequate. For example, while the game boasts a free-roaming-esque world design in the form of Wumpa Island, this really is a false game box bullet point. Yes, all the levels do take place on an island, and yes, there is a central hub (Crash’s House), but there really is no exploratory freedom. Upon leaving your house you either go straight, right, or left – those are your only three options. From there you play out a mission, continually pushing in one direction. Once you’re done with a mission, more often than not you have to backtrack, all the while dealing with a camera that’s not suited for that purpose, resulting in falls off ledges and collisions with enemies.
Crash does a lot of running, jumping, and punching throughout his quest. If a platformer can nail these mechanics, then it’s already more than halfway toward a great game. However, it’s in these basic fundamentals that Mind Over Mutant falters. One hang-up is the framerate – it never is stable, continually slowing down and then only slightly ramping back up. This results in a delay between your button presses and Crash’s actions. Not only does this interaction feel sluggish, it spells death plenty of times – usually in the form of a missed jump. The lag in play is compounded by a weird decision to use the analog nub for two of Crash’s critical moves: the spin attack and high jump. You have to twirl the nub in a circle several times before he can initiate these moves; it comes off as awkward, making it hard to perform game essentials. Why couldn’t the developer map those moves to a two button combination? It would have definitely toned down control frustration.
Attempting to play off its platform deficiencies, Mind Over Mutant allows Crash to “jack” Titans. Once “jacked,” Crash can ride these beasts around levels. All of them have special abilities, like freezing water, allowing for safe passage. Some of these Titans actually add to the gameplay – such as the orb-looking creature that can perform telekinesis. Others feel unnecessary, merely adding brute strength and look like they’ve been taken from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tokka and Rahzar school of design.
Sonic has gold rings, Mario has coins, and Crash is all about the mojo. Whenever you hit certain levels of mojo collection, Crash is rewarded with either new moves or stat upgrades, such as increased strength. This mojo leveling system carries over to the Titans Crash controls as well. It’s an interesting idea, but falls flat. Collecting plain old stuff was tedious back in the heyday of 3D platformers (the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era), so merely attaching a new reward to it doesn’t make it any more interesting.
Two things happen when a series has been going for as long as Crash: they either settle into a groove, giving gamers one successful title after another, or fall into a rut, diluting a once fruitful pool of creativity. With Crash: Mind Over Mutant, Radical Entrainment has shown that it can deliver the goods in the cutscene department, but this is a review of a game, not a non-interactive cartoon. Crash, a once center stage mascot, plays like an exhausted hero of yesteryear, and it may be time for him to take some time off the video game scene to recollect his once keen gaming senses.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
The cutscenes are well done and there are some colorful sets and characters on display. Too bad it’s all punctuated by terrible load times and a framerate that never seems to reach a stable zone. 2.0 Control
Some of Crash’s moves – like the spin attack and high jump – are harder than necessary to execute. There’s a delay between button presses and basic movement, a big no-no for a platformer; you’ll restart areas simply because the response time isn’t what it should be. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The star of the show: Mind Over Mutant boasts some of the best voice acting heard in some time. It’s nice that you rarely hear enemies repeat the same dialogue. However, the score doesn’t live up to this same caliber. 1.8 Play Value
At the end of the day a platformer comes down to “feel” is it plain fun to play? Unfortunately, in Mind Over Mutant’s case, the answer is a definite no. Between the false freedom of the world design and the tedious gameplay, Crash isn’t what he used to be. 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.